Netball Australia Indigenous High Performance Camp

“I want to see a Black Diamond.”If you watch nothing else this week, watch this.It’s been 17 long years since an Aboriginal player last represented the Australian Netball Diamonds. But change is coming.Lou Patton was privileged to witness Netball Australia's inaugural Indigenous High Performance Camp last week and captured these historic moments.

Posted by Netball Scoop on Wednesday, July 19, 2017

 

Seventeen years ago the Sydney Olympics were held, smart phones didn’t exist, the average house price in Australia was $135,000, and Kim Ravaillion was 7 years old.

It was also the last time an Aboriginal woman represented the Australian Diamonds.

Sharon Finnan-White OAM retired in 2000, having followed in the footsteps of Australia’s first Aboriginal Diamond, Marcia Ella-Duncan OAM.

There are an estimated 40,000 Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander netballers in Australia. Imagine the stands of the Sydney Cricket Ground, Subiaco Oval in Perth or The Gabba in Brisbane full to capacity. That’s roughly what 40,000 people looks like.

How can there not have been one person out of a crowd that size, for 17 years, that has been worthy of Diamonds selection?

It’s an issue that Australia’s foremost netball identities are grappling with. They hope that Netball Australia’s inaugural Indigenous High Performance Camp, held in Canberra from 5-7 July, was an important step to changing it.

“I want to see an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander player in the Diamonds, there’s no doubt about that. That’s what this is all about. I want to see a black Diamond,” said Ella-Duncan.

Twenty-one talented Indigenous netballers assembled at the Australian Institute of Sport for the three-day camp. They came from the eastern suburbs of Sydney, Alice Springs, small towns in Western Australia and southern Tasmania. They came from Nyawaygi, Arerrente, Kaurna and Kalkadoon country, to name a few.

The group included a premiership winning player from the Queensland Firebirds and a 14-year-old future star. Players hoping to break through into premier state leagues, players who were an integral part of their state or territory junior national championship teams.

Young women with varying amounts of knowledge about their Indigenous heritage, each following a unique path. Some know their family history well, others felt hesitant to say they don’t. Some talked about the displacement and other effects of the Stolen Generation upon their cultural knowledge, and the imposed shame their parents and grandparents experienced in ‘admitting’ their Aboriginality or Torres Strait Islander heritage.

If the athletes gathered at the camp were anything to go by, this is changing. The 2016 Australian Bureau of Statistics census results also show a change, with an increase in people identifying as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders.

Lisa Alexander, coach of the Diamonds, hopes this increased self-identification will help to uncover the next Diamond, along with the leadership of Netball Australia’s Reconciliation Action Plan Working Group (RAPWG).

In attendance at the camp were members of the RAPWG Marcia Ella-Duncan OAM, Sharon Finnan-White OAM, Melina Saunders, Alison Tucker and Julia Symons; as well as Alexander, Jill McIntosh, Caitlin Thwaites and a host of elite coaches and support staff.

“I’d really like one of our Indigenous athletes to be making a (national) squad or a team as soon as possible … We just need to get a couple in there and then they see the way and it will start to blossom from that,” said Alexander.

“It’s frustrating because I would have liked it a lot earlier than this, but I really respect the way Netball Australia and the committee have gone about it. They’ve made sure they’ve had everything in place and done it well, and I really just need it to be a yearly event now and maybe a twice-yearly event, we’ll see.”

When asked why it has been so long since an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander player has represented the Diamonds, Ella-Duncan and Alexander identified some of the barriers as systemic issues, the tyranny of distance for players living in regional areas, financial difficulties, cultural responsibilities, in some cases a lack of family support and that women’s sport is not considered as important as men’s sport.

“It’s a very simple question, but it’s a very complex answer. Some of it is systemic (within the netball system) and that’s what the RAPWG is dealing with … But clearly, there’s also a lot of impediments for players outside of the netball community,” said Ella-Duncan.

“The feeling of isolation, not feeling understood and not quite fitting in. Some of the pressures from our community, some of the challenges around balancing life, sport, work, education. All of the things that any athlete encounters, but when you overlay some of the cultural challenges for (Indigenous) players with the netball systemic barriers, all of that compounds.”

Selection of players for the inaugural camp was overseen by the RAPWG and Stacey West, Netball Australia’s General Manager of Athlete Performance. Players were selected using information from talent scouts, state and territory high performance managers, and data from state and national championships. Athletes identify as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander when registering on NA’s national database.

Ella-Duncan described the purpose of the camp as “cultural awareness for players of the high performance world in netball – how to cope, build resilience and build support.” The players took part in court-work sessions, but the main focus was about teaching high performance behaviours and creating a support network, “a community within the netball community”.

Activities included cultural and education sessions, painting with renowned indigenous artist Sarrita King, and a visit to the Aboriginal Tent Embassy located opposite Old Parliament House. Athletes planned, managed and delivered a community camp to young local netballers – skills they will be able to take back to their communities.

Training, eating and sleeping on residence at the AIS is a well-worn path for many of Australia’s elite athletes. Being immersed in netball and cultural activities forged close bonds between the athletes, coaches and support staff; and motivated athletes to not only strive towards progressing their netball, but for some, to find out more about their family history.

Athletes will return to their own state and territory pathways and will be monitored by Netball Australia and state and territory high performance managers.

Ella-Duncan’s wish-list includes Indigenous player and coach representation in elite teams, but also that netball is played in all Indigenous communities on a regular basis. Alexander talked about striving to gain the same sort of notoriety that AFL has for men in Indigenous communities. They are well aware of the challenges, including the need for corporate financial support, but Finnan-White spoke of the need to be brave in setting goals.

“I would like to be really bold and say within five years time, we’d like to see ‘x’ amount of Indigenous girls playing at state level or playing in the Australian under 21 team, and then in five years actually becoming a Diamond, if that’s a realistic target. But we have to put those mechanisms in place to make that happen, and I think this (camp) is just one of them,” said Finnan-White.

“Seventeen years is such a long time. I’m hoping we can find that next one that’s able to step up, and hopefully what we’re doing here with these girls will help them to do that.”

 

Netball Australia’s Reconciliation Action Plan: http://netball.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/NetballAutralia_RAP.pdf

 

The athletes of the 2017 Indigenous High Performance Camp:
Alkira Rodney (WA)
Ashton Embry (WA)
Beryl Friday (QLD)
Bethany Williams (NT)
Charisma Wanganeen (VIC)
Courtney Summers (NT)
Courtney Jones (NSW)
Dominque Scott (QLD)
Emma Hartnett (SA)
Emma Johns (TAS)
Gabrielle Coffey (NT)
Halle Faith Pierson (NSW)
Jenaya Graham (QLD)
Kayla Nakhoul (NSW)
Monique Chong (NT)
Myra Ugle (WA)
Olivia Cooper (NSW)
Tegan Holland (NSW)
Tierrah Miller (WA)
Wendy Stafford (QLD)
Zali Mifsud (VIC)

 

 

Cover image: Lou Patton

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